That’s Debatable: NCAA First Weekend

Posted by rtmsf on March 22nd, 2011

As we head into the Sweet Sixteen round, let’s take a look back at some of the key questions and moments of the first two, er, three rounds…

RTC Take:  It was more interesting than it was the last nine years when it only involved two #16 seeds, but the only way to make it truly compelling is to pick teams with a little more national oomph than USC, VCU, UAB and Clemson. 

RTC Take: The fouls at the end of Butler/Pitt offset each other and the two no-calls appeared to be play-on situations in those games.  The Kalin Lucas travel probably wouldn’t have impacted the outcome anyway.  But the Texas five-second call seemed to be a fast whistle, and it essentially gave Arizona the daylight it needed to win the game. 

RTC Take:  We really liked the ability to surf between games without too much trouble, and the free online platforms worked great.  We did not like having entire afternoons on Saturday & Sunday limited to one game per window, though.  That could end up poorly in future years with blowouts. 

RTC Take:  It’s true that Barkley/Jet don’t do their homework, but the scene where Barkley razzed Pitino about Louisville losing in their first game and clowning the Big East was priceless, well worth putting up with the rest of it.  We’ve never seen someone so openly disdainful and dismissive of Pitino in his presence.  Awesome.

RTC Take:  Was Jimmer, still Jimmer.  His performance against Gonzaga was phenomenal, and although Kemba was equally awesome, we still think BYU would essentially be Air Force without Fredette in the lineup.

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NCAA Regional Reset: Southeast Region

Posted by Brian Otskey on March 22nd, 2011

Brian Otskey is an RTC contributor.

We’re down to sixteen teams, so it’s time to visit with each of our regional experts and analyze what happened in each of the four regions and what should be expected this coming weekend. Every one of these predictions is guaranteed to be absolutely and totally correct.

Region: Southeast

New Orleans Has Hosted Many Epic NCAA Games

New Favorite: #2 Florida (28-7, 13-3 SEC). After Pittsburgh’s loss to Butler, the Gators move to the front of the Southeast pecking order. They’re playing very well but did struggle at times against UCLA. To tell you the truth, I feel any of the four teams left in this region can make it to Houston but I’ll give Florida a slight edge.

Horse of Darkness: #8 Butler (25-9, 13-5 Horizon). They shouldn’t be creeping up on anyone this year but the lowest seed in this region is still a nine-loss team out of a mid-major league and must be considered the dark horse. Butler is playing its best basketball of the season and has a chance to beat Wisconsin and then Florida/BYU to reach the Final Four for the second straight season. I wouldn’t put it past them.

Biggest Surprise (1st Weekend): #8 Butler (25-9, 13-5 Horizon). As I said, they shouldn’t be creeping up on anyone but the way they got to New Orleans was surprising. The Bulldogs had to knock off two incredibly physical and well-coached clubs to get to the Sweet Sixteen, winning by a combined three points. The good news for Butler? They were just as physical and well-coached as Old Dominion and Pittsburgh, plus the same applies to matchups with Wisconsin and whoever they would get should they make the regional final.

Completely Expected (1st Weekend): #2 Florida (28-7, 13-3 SEC). In a region where the #1 seed was knocked off early, the #3 was expected (by quite a few people, including yours truly) to lose to Gonzaga and the #4 was the trendy first round upset victim, the #2 Gators held serve and won two games. Florida had no trouble with UC Santa Barbara, trouncing the Gauchos in the first round. A tougher than expected game against UCLA was next but Florida survived and advanced to New Orleans where many folks figured they’d be when the brackets came out last week.

I’m Exceptionally Smart and Prescient: My “Lock of the Year” in the Southeast Bracket Prep last week said Pittsburgh wouldn’t make the Final Four despite what some perceived as an easy draw for the Panthers. Viola! Jamie Dixon and company made an early exit after the bizarre finish to their game against Butler. Dixon’s teams are too physical to win in March (called for lots of fouls), plus they don’t score with enough consistency to be a Final Four threat. We’ve seen this movie before and the sequels keep coming year after year. I even warned the readers their second game wouldn’t be easy, saying the Panthers “may be shocked by Butler or Old Dominion.”

Except When I Make Stupid Predictions: I filled out multiple brackets but I failed to follow my own gut and picked Pitt to make it to Houston in my “main” bracket. I’m also kicking myself for doubting Bo Ryan and Wisconsin. I foolishly went with Belmont, thinking the Bruins’ quick pace would disrupt the Badgers. Silly me, slow and steady usually wins the race. That team is tough as nails and proved they could fight through adversity and win. Jordan Taylor struggled mightily against Kansas State before redeeming himself with two big free throws and a block towards the end of that game.

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NCAA Tournament Tidbits: 03.19.2011

Posted by Brian Goodman on March 19th, 2011

Throughout the NCAA Tournament, we’ll be providing you with the daily chatter from around the webosphere relating to what’s going on with the teams still playing.

East

  • George Mason took out a fizzling Villanova in the first round, and continues to carve its own identity separate from the 2006 Final Four squad. The Wildcats’ season is over, and considering it lost 11 of its last 16 games, including its final six, perhaps it’s for the best.
  • The blistering performance Marquette put on Xavier Friday night sent a big message to its doubters. The Golden Eagles shot 57% on their end, and put the clamps on star Musketeer Tu Holloway. Next for Buzz Williams‘ team is Syracuse, a team Marquette beat earlier this season.
  • The Tar Heels broke out in the second half to pull away from Long Island. The high-scoring final outcome, 102-87, didn’t take long to become a polarizing talking point between tempo-free stat-heads (UNC gave up 0.89 points per possession) and traditional analysts (87 points allowed to a lower-tier mid-major)
  • Syracuse stuck to its game plan of feeding Rick Jackson and polished off Indiana State. The game ended at 12:41 AM local time in Cleveland (more on this later), and set up an intra-conference battle with Marquette on Sunday (this too).
  • For Lorenzo Romar and company, winning away from home has been a large concern, but it shook off the stigma, if only for one night, in their win against Georgia. Is it open season on Bulldogs head coach Mark Fox?
  • West Virginia may mix in a 1-3-1 look on defense today when the Mountaineers clash against Kentucky. The game is a rematch of last season’s regional final in Syracuse, when WVU bested John Calipari‘s team in the Carrier Dome.

Southeast

  • The Southeast region has a full slate on Saturday, including a battle between Florida and UCLA. Though the rosters have turned over, UCLA can exact revenge from elimination at the hands of the Gators in the 2006 and 2007 Final Fours.
  • Gonzaga faces the same question posed to the 35 teams on BYU‘s schedule to this point – how do you stop Jimmer Fredette? It seems like there’s nothing out of the realm of possibility from 30 feet in for Fredette, so Gonzaga’s defenders need to be on high alert.
  • Free throw proficiency has been a major factor to Wisconsin‘s success this  season, which is on the line in Saturday’s game against Kansas State. The Wildcats need to show patience in defending Wisconsin’s attack, and play smart defense.
  • Butler guard Ronald Nored had to swallow his pride and accept a late-season move from a starting to role to a contributor off the bench. Will he provide a spark against the top-seeded Pittsburgh Panthers?
  • For all the attention Jacob Pullen receives (and deservedly so), Rodney McGruder is one of Frank Martin‘s more underrated players. Six-foot-four guards who average six boards a game don’t fall out of the sky.

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NCAA Tournament Tidbits – 03.17.2011

Posted by Brian Goodman on March 17th, 2011

Throughout the NCAA Tournament, we’ll be providing you with the daily chatter from around the webosphere relating to what’s going on with the teams still playing.

East

  • When Jay Wright speaks, his Wildcat squad listens. The veteran coach knows how to communicate with his players and that is one of the reasons he has had such a successful tenure.
  • A key for West Virginia‘s resurgence this season has been the turnaround of senior guard Casey Mitchell. Mitchell, who was thought to be a consistent player for the Mountaineers, battled inconsistency and conduct problems throughout the early part of the season.
  • UNC head coach Roy Williams revealed guard Dexter Strickland has been battling a knee injury for a few weeks. Strickland’s health will be a key to Carolina’s chances of making a deep run.
  • Marquette has struggled with defensive inconsistencies all season, but they have had great success getting to the hoop and drawing fouls. Look for Jimmy Butler and Darius Johnson-Odom to exploit the Musketeers in an attempt to get easy hoops.
  • #13 seed Princeton is seeking a monumental upset as they prep to face Kentucky. The Tigers do have a history of pulling huge shockers in March, as they stunned defending champion UCLA in the first round in 1996.

Southeast

  • Kansas State standout guard Jacob Pullen is battling the flu, but is expected to be a full participant in tonight’s tilt with Utah State. If Pullen is not 100%, one can assume Utah State’s chances for an upset get significantly stronger.
  • The fresh infusion of talent provided to Gonzaga by the emergence of Marquise Carter, David Stockton, and Sam Dower have been key to the Zags’ late season run. The play of all three will undoubtedly dictate if Mark Few‘s squad will make any noise.
  • Tom Izzo knows this season did not go exactly the way he wanted it to, but an experienced squad can be a huge factor if the Spartans make a run. Izzo is a great veteran coach, who has Final Four experience, so a big run may not be that surprising.
  • St. John’s associate head coach Mike Dunlaphas interest in the opening at Wyoming. Dunlap has a great track record as an assistant and a lower-level head coach and could thrive as the head man at Wyoming.
  • An interesting story has emerged about how Old Dominion head coach Blaine Taylor has endured bouts with alcoholism. His road to redemption is quite inspiring, as he did not let his demons put an end to his career.

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The Other 26: Bracket Analysis Part II

Posted by KDoyle on March 17th, 2011

Kevin Doyle is an RTC Contributor.

Call it what you want with this seemingly erroneous preamble of the NCAA Tournament known as the “First Four,” but the opening game of this year’s edition of the Dance could not have been much more entertaining. We have already had a clutch shot in the final seconds and an overtime game under our belts. Many people will not even remember that UNC-Asheville and Arkansas-Little Rock even partook in the Tournament, but for a few hours last evening the stage was all theirs. Even if it is merely a play-in game—errr, first round game—this is the NCAA Tournament and keen basketball observers were no doubt glued to their screens and smartphones last night tracking the game.

Just as a refresher in case you missed yesterday’s look into the Other 26 teams in the East and West Regions, I elected to break down the 16 teams by inserting each into one of the four categories: 1) Have a legitimate shot at actually advancing far into the Tournament; 2) Can win a game, but not much more; 3) If their shots are falling and their opponents are not, they have an outside shot; and, 4) We are just happy to be here.

Ability to advance to the second weekend

(8, Southwest) UNLV—After the conclusion of the 2010 Tournament, there is no doubt that a bitter taste was left in UNLV’s mouth. The Runnin’ Rebels lost to Northern Iowa in the final minute and then two nights later, in one of the gutsiest shots in Tournament history, Ali Farokhmanesh drilled a three from the wing to seal the victory over Kansas. UNLV had to painfully watch the remainder of the Tournament and endure the arduous offseason pondering the question: “Why couldn’t that have been us?” Now, UNLV is in a similar situation, as they are in the 8 vs. 9 game again. They are an experienced bunch with Tournament experience under their belts; if they are fortunate enough to get by Illinois, they will ironically play none other than Kansas.

(12, Southwest) Richmond—The Spiders were upset by St. Mary’s last year, and this year they are the ones who will have to be playing spoiler. Richmond has arguably the most dynamic player in the field with 6’10 senior forward Justin Harper. To make a comparison, Harper is the Atlantic 10’s version of Dirk Nowitzki. Although he spends most of his time inside the arc, his ability to step outside and hit a three poses endless match-up problems for opponents. Harper is complemented nicely by his running mate Kevin Anderson. Richmond matches up well against Vanderbilt, but containing John Jenkins—maybe the best shooter in the Tournament—will be a challenge. Expect a variety of match-up and 2-3 zones from Chris Mooney.

 

Harper is a Tough Matchup for Vandy

(3, Southeast) BYU—It is painfully obvious that the loss of Brandon Davies has detrimentally affected BYU’s play considerably; in the first game after his absence the Cougars were thrashed by New Mexico 82-64 on their home floor. While there is little doubt that Jimmer Fredette is the face of the program and their top player, the country is now officially seeing that there is much more going on in Provo, Utah, that can be attributed to BYU’s success  other than simply Fredette. While a deep run no doubt becomes more difficult without the services of Davies, the backcourt of Fredette and Jackson Emery has the ability to carry the Cougars to the second weekend.

(9, Southeast) Old Dominion—ODU presents all of the intangibles to be successful in the Tournament. They have an intelligent and proven coach in Blaine Taylor, a senior-laden team with NCAA experience, and the confidence that they belong here and can win—especially after knocking off Notre Dame as an 11 seed last year. It is more than merely intangibles for ODU though. The Monarchs are quite possibly the best rebounding team in the field, incredibly tough on the defensive end—according to Frank Hassell: “We go 50% man and 50% zone”—and run a deliberate offense that minimizes their opposition’s possessions. Blaine Taylor has created a formula for his team to have success in the NCAA Tournament.

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NCAA Tournament Tidbits: 03.16.2011

Posted by Brian Goodman on March 16th, 2011

Throughout the NCAA Tournament, we’ll be providing you with the daily chatter from around the webosphere relating to what’s going on with the teams still playing.

West

  • Word came last night that Kyrie Irving will be available for Duke, but how big a difference can he make for a team already at a one-seed?
  • According to a study conducted by BracketScience.com, Michigan head coach John Beilein is the second-best coach at outperforming his seed.
  • Missouri is ninth in the nation in scoring, but it’s mostly due to Mike Anderson‘s uptempo style rather than smooth shooting.
  • A survivor mentality is crucial for Memphis, who fell under the radar during a roller coaster season.
  • Bucknell senior GW Boon, a Kansas fan when the Bison shocked the Jayhawks in 2005, changed allegiances when the coaching staff came knocking shortly after.
  • It’s taken a few years, but Mick Cronin finally has Cincinnati on the upswing.

Southwest

  • An apt nickname for the UNLV-Illinois matchup game might be “The Lon Kruger Bowl.”
  • Old Dominion is one of this season’s Cinderella candidates, behind big man Frank Hassell.
  • A veteran lineup is expected to get plenty of mileage for the Notre Dame Fighting Irish.
  • It’s already been an up-and-down week for Purdue, and they haven’t even played a tournament game yet. After JaJuan Johnson was named an All-American, Kelsey Barlow was suspended for “conduct detrimental to the team.”
  • Off the court, Utah State is one of just seven schools in the NCAA Tournament with perfect graduation rates.
  • Richmond coach Chris Mooney has been poring over Vanderbilt film and has a good idea of what the Commodores will try to do Thursday.

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RTC Live: Big 12 Quarterfinals

Posted by Brian Goodman on March 10th, 2011

Games #179-180.  The Jayhawks and Wildcats hit the hardwood in Kansas City to take on two winners of Wednesday’s opening round matchups.

12:30 pm – Kansas vs. Oklahoma State. After winning the Big 12 for the seventh straight season, the Kansas Jayhawks received a first-round bye in the conference tournament and now draws the Oklahoma State Cowboys. OSU ended any realistic chance of Nebraska making the NCAA Tournament with a 53-52 victory on Wednesday. Bill Self’s team is a sure thing for a number one seed, but must keep up its momentum if it wants the tournament’s top overall spot. KU won the first meeting in blowout fashion, 92-65, in Lawrence two weeks ago, but Travis Ford’s team is eager to play spoiler.

3:00 pm – Kansas State vs. Colorado. The second game will pit Kansas State against Colorado. The Wildcats have used a month-long surge to return to its preseason status as a team that no one wants to play in a tournament situation. The Buffaloes need a high-profile win to strengthen their case for a tournament bid, and while Kansas State is hot, Colorado beat them in both regular season meetings. We’ll also be treated to a matchup of high-level individual scorers with Jacob Pullen and Alec Burks sharing the court.

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Set Your Tivo: 03.10.11

Posted by Brian Otskey on March 10th, 2011

***** – quit your job and divorce your wife if that’s what it takes to watch this game live
**** – best watched live, but if you must, tivo and watch it tonight as soon as you get home
*** – set your tivo but make sure you watch it later
** – set your tivo but we’ll forgive you if it stays in the queue until 2013
* – don’t waste bandwidth (yours or the tivo’s) of any kind on this game

Brian Otskey is an RTC contributor.

The power conferences take center stage on Thursday with quarterfinal matchups from New York to Kansas City to Los Angeles on the schedule. All rankings from RTC and all times Eastern.

Big East Quarterfinals (at New York, NY): #3 Pittsburgh vs. #18 Connecticut – 12 pm on ESPN (****)

Dixon Will Have To Knock Off a Hot UConn Squad To Avoid Last Year's Fate

The double-bye was not kind to Pittsburgh last year, as they fell victim to Notre Dame on Thursday of last season’s conference tournament. They’ll look to avoid a similar fate today against a hot Connecticut team coming off two convincing wins in the first two rounds. These teams played way back on December 27 in the first Big East game of the year, a contest won by Pittsburgh, 78-63.

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Big 12 Wrap & Tourney Preview

Posted by Brian Goodman on March 9th, 2011

Owen Kemp of Rock Chalk Talk and SB Nation Kansas City is the RTC Correspondent for the Big 12 Conference. With tournament action set to tip from Kansas City on Thursday, get set with RTC’s postseason preview and regular season recap.

Postseason Preview

  • Headed into the Big 12 Tournament, Kansas State is widely considered the hottest team in the conference and is looking square in the face of a semifinal matchup against the Kansas Jayhawks that could be the game of the tournament.   That of course assumes the Wildcats get past potential quarterfinal opponent Colorado, who recorded a regular season sweep of Kansas State.
  • On the bottom half of the bracket, the Longhorns might have to take another shot from Baylor, TexasA&M and/or Missouri in order to play on Saturday.  The Longhorns are a collective 5-0 against these teams during the regular season and all four teams, including Texas, are playing to improve their tourney seed.
  • The reality is that the NCAA Tournament impacts some, but really doesn’t mean much to others.  Barring a minor miracle, Texas Tech, Oklahoma, OklahomaState and Iowa State are teams whose fans will be done following this weekend, unless you consider the NIT or CBI worth watching.
  • The Kansas Jayhawks are a lock for a #1 seed and even a quarterfinal upset wouldn’t change that.  The Jayhawks aren’t likely to pack up and leave without a fight, but the results this weekend just aren’t that important for anything more than bragging rights.
  • Baylor and Nebraska are two teams that need a deep run to jump back on the bubble and the two teams that cannot afford a first or even second round loss if they want to be considered.  A semifinal run by either and they can start making their case to the committee.
  • For the rest, it’s playing for seed.  Colorado probably needs to avoid a first round upset, but beyond that, wins by the Buffs, Missouri, Texas A&M, Texas and Kansas State all serve as arguments for a higher seed in the NCAA tournament.  For Texas, it’s probably a two-seed if they play well, a three if they do not.  A&M probably falls in the 4-6 range.  Missouri probably goes as high as a #6 and as low as a #10.  Colorado is looking at something in the 10-12 range while Kansas State could jump quite a bit if they win the tournament and possibly work their way back to a #5 or six seed looking most likely at this point.
  • The Big 12 Tournament has different meanings for different teams, but it’s a weekend that definitely holds March ramifications for many, considering the parity across college basketball in 2010-2011.

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Around The Blogosphere: March 7, 2011

Posted by nvr1983 on March 7th, 2011

If you are interested in participating in our ATB2 feature, send in your submissions to rushthecourt@gmail.com. We will add to this post throughout the day as the submissions come in so keep on sending them.

Top 25 Games

  • #1 Ohio State 93, #10 Wisconsin 65: “Jon Diebler continued his torrid three point shooting pace, dropping in 27 points on 8/10 FG and 7/8 3FG shooting as the Buckeyes put a thorough 93-65 beatdown on Bo’s Badgers this afternoon in Value City Arena. Diebler’s unconscious effort on Senior Day was complimented by Jared Sullinger’s 22 points and eight rips, William Buford’s 18 and David Lighty’s 13.” (Eleven Warriors)
  • #2 Kansas 70, #21 Missouri 66: “In the end, a huge win for Kansas. Turned the ball over way too much but with a big first half from the Morri and a huge second half from Thomas Robinson, the Jayhawks were able give the Tigers their only loss at Paige Mizzou Arena this season.” (Rock Chalk Talk: Part 1 and Part 2; Rock M Nation: Recap)
  • #11 UNC 81, #4 Duke 67: “In the end, the game came down to two simple facts. Duke came to Chapel Hill and played the same game they had a month earlier – heavy scoring from Nolan Smith and Seth Curry, minimal offense from Kyle Singer and no production from the rest of the team. Carolina played a much superior game though, and won easily.” (Carolina March: Recap and Analysis)
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Morning Five: 03.02.11 Edition

Posted by rtmsf on March 2nd, 2011

  1. The biggest news of Tuesday was undoubtedly the loss of BYU’s Brandon Davies, a sophomore forward who was banging his way to 11/6 nightly, picking up scraps left over from Jimmer Fredette and Jackson Emery, the two leading scorers.  Davies allegedly broke the school’s honor code, and he was suspended for the rest of the season.  The Cougars are tracking toward a #1 seed in the NCAA Tournament, but they’ll need to prove that they can play just as well without Davies in the lineup as they have with him to satisfy the NCAA Selection Committee.  Forward Noah Hartsock is expected to move into Davies’ vacated center position, but Hartsock’s power forward spot will need to be filled by a less experienced player such as Kyle Collinsworth or Charles Abouo.  Very tough break for Dave Rose and the BYU program in its best season in a generation.
  2. In other news involving personnel losses (or non-losses), UNC backup guard Reggie Bullock will miss the remainder of the season with a torn lateral meniscus that he suffered during the weekend’s Maryland game.  This is not a huge loss for the Heels, as Bullock was only contributing 6/3 in about fifteen minutes per game this season, but he was third on the team in three-pointers made (29) and this will make Roy Williams’ team a little more suspect against zone defenses the rest of the year.  In much better news, Kansas State’s Jacob Pullen had his right wrist x-rayed after banging it in Monday night’s game against Texas, and although it was sore and swollen, there is no broken bone.  He is expected to play this coming weekend in Senior Day festivities at Bramlage Coliseum against Iowa State.
  3. Luke Winn gives us his top eight potential bid stealers for the next two weeks — teams who could make strong runs through their conference tournaments to knock someone like Virginia Tech or Michigan off the ‘last four in’ line.  Winn’s list is a good one, but we’d perhaps add a few more names to the discussion: Washington State (Pac-10), Alabama (SEC), San Francisco (WCC) and any number of teams from Conference USA.
  4. Remember former Binghamton guard DJ Rivera, the former America East star whom coaches refused to vote for POY in 2009 even though he was clearly the best player in that league?  Oh, he also was partially responsible for the implosion of the Binghamton program when he was arrested in the fall of 2009 for swiping a debit card and subsequently using it to purchase snacks, cigars and a large-screen television before getting caught.  His arrest along with Tiki Mayben’s commensurate arrest for selling crack cocaine resulted in several players getting kicked off the team and a national scandal that the school is still recovering from.  Why is this relevant now?  On Monday, Rivera pleaded guilty to the crime — fourth degree criminal possession of stolen property — and he will face nine months’ probation, which, if he keeps his nose clean, will allow him to reduce the charge to a misdemeanor and pursue a basketball career overseas.  This plea marks the final chapter in the scandal — BU has gone 20-40 since the program was destroyed that summer.
  5. Maybe these guys should talk to our friends at HSAC so as to learn how to properly perform an interesting study.  Virginia Tech, fresh off three straight years on the wrong side of the bubble, commissioned statisticians at the College of Science to determine what the biases are that go into making bubble selections into the NCAA Tournament.  Their conclusion: a team’s RPI, its strength of schedule, and its historical pedigree factor prominently into successful bids.  In other words, everything you already knew.  Across campus, no doubt, Hokie researchers have recently proven that water is indeed wet and sunshine comprises the majority of daylight.  Here’s a memo to Seth Greenberg: how about instead of hanging your hat on a few big-time wins every season, you beat the teams you’re supposed to beat, especially at home.
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ATB: Another Longhorn Collapse In Progress…

Posted by rtmsf on March 1st, 2011

The Lede.  The last Big Monday of the 2010-11 season was short on games, but heavy on lessons learned.  So what did we learn, exactly?  That one team left for dead in the Big 12 race at midseason is completely back behind a guy playing with a giant chip on his shoulder; that another team who looked like a #1 seed lock two weeks ago is dangerously close to another epic collapse; that a Big East team whom nobody had much faith in (ourselves included) is turning heads on its way to a top two seed in the NCAA Tournament; and that another Big East team that looked Final Four-caliber in January is limping into the postseason with a couple of bloody appendages.  In other words, what we thought we knew we didn’t actually know, and what we think we now know probably isn’t what we know either — all of this is just a convoluted way of saying that, once again, it’s March.

 

With Digger Young & Old Watching, ND Crushed It From Deep (CT/M. Cashore)

Your Watercooler MomentThe Longhorn Collapse Came Later Than Usual This Year.  We got concerned when the Horns gave up 70 points at Nebraska a little over a week ago; we tried to ignore it when they gave up a 58-point half over the weekend at Colorado.  But to drop a game at home against a team that couldn’t beat anybody a few weeks ago proves that we need to stand up and take notice.  Rick Barnes’ team is going through another one of his patented collapses — it just took longer this year for it to manifest itself.  With its third loss in four games, Texas is beginning to resemble the Horns of the last two vintages, both of whom looked great at midseason only to fall apart as the days grew longer and the calendar turned to March.  In tonight’s game against surging Kansas State, it was once again the Longhorn defense, so spectacular for most of the season, that failed.  The Horns gave up 50% shooting to the Wildcats, the first time all season that a team has reached that mark for the game, and K-State’s 1.15 points per possession is the second-best against UT all season (Colorado’s 1.17 PPP two days ago was the best).  Much has been written already about how Jordan Hamilton cannot hit a shot right now, and that much is true (25.9% in the last three losses), but Rick Barnes knows that it’s his defense that is abandoning him.  Whether that’s a function of players like Hamilton, Tristan Thompson and Cory Joseph looking forward to pay-for-play, it’s difficult to say, but without question the tight chemistry that this team showed in dominating the Big 12 defensively during January and most of February is now gone.  As for K-State, Frank Martin has done an excellent job in getting his Wildcats back into the hunt in both the Big 12 and the postseason conversation.  Having now won eight of ten Big 12 games after a miserable 1-4 start, K-State is trending quickly as one of the teams nobody will want to see opposite them as a #4/#5 seed in two weeks.

Your Watercooler Moment, Pt. II Irish Eyes Smile to the Tune of Twenty Threes.  If you predicted that the top four teams in the 2010-11 Big East regular season would be Pitt (ok), Notre Dame (what?), Louisville (huh?) and St. John’s (no way!), give yourself a one-way ticket to Vegas because you are clearly some kind of expert soothsayer.  Yet that’s where we stand on the last Big Monday of the season after Mike Brey’s Fighting Irish nailed a school-record twenty threes in an explosive performance to dominate Villanova tonight, 93-72.  Notre Dame star Ben Hansbrough hit for 30/10 assts on 7-10 shooting from deep, while Tim Abromaitis went for 30/4/4 assts while shooting 9-13 from deep.  For the pair of seniors who have led Notre Dame to a surprisingly exceptional season causing Irish fans to think Final Four, it was a capstone performance for a season that has wildly exceeded all reasonable expectations.  The question is whether the Irish are in fact a serious threat to make a run to Houston, and we still hesitate to place this team on the top tier because of its sometimes-questionable defense.  But with shooters like Mike Brey has at his disposal (both Hansbrough and Abromaitis are 40%+ guys) and an ability to dictate pace with less disciplined teams, the Irish are going to be a very tough out both in the Big East and NCAA Tournaments later this month.

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